And the sign said “Long-haired freaky people need not apply”
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said “You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do”
So I took off my hat, I said “Imagine that. Huh! Me workin’ for you!”
– Five Man Electrical Band, Signs
Seems rather apropos given the circumstances.
I’ll admit that when I saw how badly Greg Laden had been rankled over this protest sign from a Canadian Occupy Wall Street event, I was a bit confused. What could he possibly be upset about?
The fact that he was raging about this sign in such a manner that I did not understand that he knew it was a direct response to certain memes that have permeated the media — that the Occupy movement is made up of hippies who want to smoke weed and bang the bongos, as opposed to fighting the very real class warfare that the rich have been waging on the poor for decades — kept me from seeing his point. I figured it out eventually, but if Stephanie Zvan’s post had come out first, I definitely would have gotten it a lot sooner.
The problem is one of memetics, and one of certain memes being intended to hurt people for no other reason than to silence them. The vast majority of the anti-war sentiment throughout the 60s and 70s was fomented by “punks”, “hippies”, and “anarchists”, even though none of those slurs come anywhere close to describing the people who fought that battle of ideologies on America’s behalf. The words were used to other the people who were fighting the establishment, an establishment that was more concerned with keeping the Vietnam meat grinder going for any number of cynical reasons than about the safety and security of its own country’s citizens, especially the safety of the very youths who were protesting. In point of fact, viewed through the lens of history, there’s precious little that came from the “hippie” movement that wasn’t absolutely correct — we as a species have been completely fucking up our environment for a century, rampant capitalism has produced some of the greatest injustices this world has ever seen, and we’ve been throwing our children into one meat grinder after another since Vietnam for no good reason. The military-industrial complex has become the military-industrial-governmental-corporate complex. Corporations have replaced citizens as the actual constituents of our countries. And the hippies were right about every fucking last one of these predictions.
In their posts, Greg and Stephanie are engaging in a war to own the slurs, to retake the words from the propagandists who have conflated each of these terms with some ridiculous memes which devalue everything they fought for. So hippies took drugs. Doesn’t make them any less right about any of the above predictions. So anarchists think government sucks. They’ve had a hell of a lot of examples of sucky government. So punks and freaks break traditional roles. These traditional roles need to be torn down anyway, they’re getting musty and restrictive and they aren’t serving anyone’s best interests. Well, nobody’s but the people already on top of the pile. You know, the 1%.
I’ll throw in my hat. Some people whom I otherwise respect in comments at Stephanie’s have bought into the memes that these people are somehow bad, by suggesting that they’re just whining. The thing is, this woman, in distancing herself from these types of people, is evidently buying into and helping to propagate that meme — that these kinds of people are somehow bad or unworthy of being in the dialogue. These memes are damaging and they are detrimental and they have no place in this conversation. Not only have the people in power used these slurs to delineate who’s “serious” about politics and economics and who isn’t, by drawing the “other” circle around everyone who disagrees with them that they should remain on top of an ever-growing heap of privilege, but even the people fighting this widening gulf of privilege are buying into the very same memes.
This isn’t whining. I’m not whining. Neither are Greg or Stephanie. If you want to counter the anti-Occupy propaganda, do it without also insulting everyone who made it possible to fight this fight in the first place.